A new school year not only brings new learning and experiences for our students, but also for teachers. For students, the learning becomes a little more challenging as everything is taken to the next level. For teachers, the curriculum and activities might remain somewhat constant (with tweaking), but our students change and that is where the real learning takes place.
Everyone knows that in today's schools there is no normal, unless you start to adopt my mantra of 'difference is normal'. In other words, if you have met one student, you can confidently proclaim that you have met one student. Unlike in yesteryears when students fit into one of two categories 'meeting' or 'not meeting', in the case of the later, students were placed in different spaces, under different teachers, or sometimes, in different schools.
Thankfully, we have moved on from the two category system of 'meeting' or 'not meeting' to an inclusive approach that welcomes all students for their differences. But have we?
The other day, a parent called me to tell me about an uncomfortable comment that was made about their daughter as part of her class. Their daughter requires additional support in order to be successful throughout her school day- the support is in the form of TA (for physical needs) & accessible technology (for academics & communication). This particular student has a medical diagnosis that is complex and impacts all parts of her person....which is why she requires support. But hey, who does not require support- some might require a little more and some people may require it for longer periods of time.
So, clean up time rolls around and this little girl refuses to clean up. Moving her name into the red zone did not change anything, telling her a phone call home was not going to get her to clean up quickly, and the bell at the end of the day did not get her moving. She was not going to clean up.â How frustrating.... right??? As teachers, we have all been there- the end of the day rolls around and we just need to get things done, but then something happens and we lose our cool! We stop thinking with our heads and move to thinking with our emotions. I can tell you, (negative) emotional reactions do not help us teach inclusively. This student was frustrating the teacher- she did not know what to do so she went to consequences.
THEN.... the parents came in, since the little girl never came out. The teacher walked over to them, before they could connect with their child, and said to the parents 'your child's noncompliant behaviours are not going to fly in my room'. 'Not going to fly in my room'- I am pretty sure inclusive classrooms are not under the ownership of the teacher, rather the learning community inside. Not knowing what to do, the parents took in the comment, walked over to their child, and asked her a simple question 'what's up?'. GUESS WHAT her response was 'I have to clean up'....so her parents helped her to the ground to tidy up the activity. Remember, this little girl requires support for her physical needs and her TA had already left for the day. In the end of the day haze, the teacher forget about the supports that make learning successful and assumed she was demonstrating 'challenging' behaviours. Rather than supporting the child down to the floor OR asking what was going on, the teacher resorted to 'if your don't do what I say then there is a consequence'. This child was punished because she could not communicate her needs in a time of frustration or get the support she needed to complete the task.
I do not believe that the teacher acted this way intentionally- it is a matter of not knowing and not remembering how necessary many supports can be for our students. This is a super example of how difference is normal. There is no one-size student any longer, almost all our students can fall into the 'meeting' category if we provide the necessary supports. I know that this can add more work, more time, and more challenges for teachers BUT it is worth it. Once we start to think and act inclusively, it is a practice that requires time and dedication, it becomes easier in new experiences.
In sum, when you are faced with a challenging situation in your classroom- take a second to breathe and think about the child.
Taking time to think about these questions will not happen in the second you take to breathe UNTIL this is part of your teaching approach. Debriefing is a large part of your professional development. Reflecting on situations, viewing them from different perspectives, and making sense of them is important. The more you practice this skill, the more natural it will seem and the more quickly you will be able to reflect in action.
Our third part of the slow release program is coming out next week!!! These are fabulous & free exercises to help you begin to target your underlying assumptions (that impact thoughts, beliefs, actions) & start to think more inclusively.
Click here for part one (Identifying Underlying Assumptions) and part two (Acknowledging Underlying Assumptions)!!!
Have a super day!